Fort Jackson trainees going home for the holidays

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Thousands of trainees and soldiers will head home for the holidays to connect with their loved ones if their destination has been approved. Fort Jackson is conducting Victory Block Leave differently this year due to COVID-19. Trainees and soldiers are leaving and returning in a safe and staggered manner starting on Dec. 17 and training will resume on Jan. 19, 2021, after a two- week controlled monitoring period. Fort Jackson transportation planners and travel offices have worked for months to plan a smooth departure for roughly 6,000 soldiers who will travel by commercial airlines, buses, trains and, in some cases, with family members by privately owned vehicles. The bi-weekly Facebook town halls started addressing the block leave procedures in October to family and friends. Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr. explained that the post is prepared for the holidays. “Ticket sales have already started in October for Victory Block Leave because as we get into December, the tickets will be much higher,” Beagle said. “You will get to see your soldiers during the holiday — please keep them safe and send them back safely so they can continue training,” said Fort Jackson Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier when asked if their trainees were participating in block leave. On the days the trainees are purchasing their tickets, they have been given their phones to call home and provide that information to the family, Tavernier added. The operational tempo of both the trainees and cadre in the past year makes this leave vital to the well-being of soldiers and their families. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Center for Initial Military Training (CIMT) and Fort Jackson have developed comprehensive mitigation measures that utilize a variety of testing, screening, restriction of movement and quarantine protocols for soldiers and cadre upon return from block leave. No one will be participating in Victory Block Leave if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are in the isolation bay. “We have an obligation to take into account everyone’s health and welfare,” said 165th Infantry Brig. Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Guadarrama. 193rd Infantry Brig. Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Butler explained further: “If they are already in the COVID bay, they will not be able to go on block leave. The reason they are in the bay is because our medical team deemed them positive of COVID and still contagious so we would not be able to send them out on public transportation and Victory Block Leave.” Butler explained if someone has bought a ticket and becomes positive, the ticket will be refunded. “The medical team will be clearing people out of the COVID bay all through the Victory Block Leave so we can keep soldiers moving forward,” Butler said. “What we are sending to you are soldiers from a clean environment,” Beagle said. All soldiers leaving have had extensive safety briefings and a bundle of mobile applications that can help keep them that way. Before the trainees leave to go on block leave, they will scan a QR code which will add apps to their phone. “One good question to ask your trainee is to see the Fort Jackson App on their phone,” Beagle said. “The more apps they have that are related to Fort Jackson and the military, the better because there are a lot of resources connected to that app.” As Fort Jackson makes plans for the holiday leave, the leaders know that some states are changing restrictions and procedures. “Some states are requiring before you enter that state, you have to have a negative COVID test,” Beagle said. Overseas travel is limited as well. 193rd Infantry Brig. Commander Col. Mark Huhtanen asked to stay aware of what is going on within your state, like the infection rates, “because we want them to stay safe and come back to us healthy.” He explained the deliberate process set for when the trainees come back and that they will get tested again and have a controlled monitoring period. This also applies to the cadre who will be taking holiday leave as well. “We are going through the same risk mitigation that the trainees are,” he said of soldiers and cadre members. Soldiers in training have become adept in those techniques proven most successful in containing the spread of the virus: frequent hand-washing, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and avoiding areas with high infection rates. As they return home, we expect everyone to continue these virus mitigation measures while back home. Prior to departing, units briefed trainees and soldiers on their responsibilities to continue to mitigate risk during their holiday break. Soldiers will wear face masks during travel; and training centers will position drill sergeants at airports to support and monitor soldiers.

Author: Rachel Howell

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